The Last Mile for Local Innovation and Creativity

In Taiwan, regional revitalization initiatives were launched in 2019. After more than two years of development, the groups involved in the regional revitalization of rural towns and villages tended to focus on the promotion of local industry. However, as ZA Share founder and principal Ozzie Su points out, “The last mile for any regional revitalization is actually education”.

Ozzie believes that rural children lack an identity and connection with their hometowns, causing them to be unwilling to stay. This is largely due to the fact that they have been told since childhood that they should study hard to eventually find a good job in a city. Incidentally, the 108 Syllabus proposing “nurturing individual potential and facilitating lifelong learning” is exactly the right direction to change this mindset. The 108 Syllabus makes it possible to break down the walls of the ivory tower of schools, allowing children to experience the essence of education as life and school as society.

Enhancing the Capacity of Digital Innovation in Education: Nan’ao and Qianzhen Caoya

To reach its goals, ZA Share applied for the “Enhancing the Capacity for Digital Innovation in Education” program from the National Development Council. Working with local groups, communities, and schools, and focusing on cross-sector innovation generated by the 108 Syllabus, it hopes to achieve regional revitalization and digital transformation while connected to the global community. The program specifically designates Nan’ao Township and the Caoya area in Kaohsiung’s Qianzhen District as the two designated sites. Ozzie states that they were chosen since they represent distinct examples: Nan’ao is a rural village in a traditional sense, while Qianzhen Caoya is the so-called urban fringe area that most people overlook.

In Nan’ao Township, ZA Share is collaborating with Skidschool founder Cho Cho Chen, who has previously worked in rural villages in Meinong District in Kaohsiung City and Jianshi Township in Hsinchu County. In 2018, Chen went to Nan’ao, and established the nonprofit organization Inch Seedling Educational Development Association the following year after conducting interviews with local residents to better understand the issues facing local education.


Photo Credit : ZA Share

According to statistics on children in rural areas, 61.5% of them are raised by a single parent or grandparents. During the summertime, 55% lack someone to accompany them to and from schools. In addition, 71.4% of the children have never been to a cram school. Chen states that rural children receive plenty of material resources, and do not lack hardware, such as laptops or tablets. The key issue is the lack of comprehensive family support, leading to a lack of sufficient capacity for self-directed learning and motivation to advance in schooling.

The situation is quite different in Qianzhen Caoya, where ZA Share is collaborating with Only HomeSchool founder Tien-yi Hsiao, whose wife is originally from Caoya. Hsiao points out that many people believe Qianzhen Caoya, as a part of Kaohsiung City, must be quite prosperous. However, often referred to as “neither mountain nor city”, Qianzhen Caoya is really an urban fringe with one-third to one-half of the students being disadvantaged, and a big gap between rich and poor.

For a long time, Inch Seedling Association and Only HomeSchool have been dedicated to resolving such issues. In recent years, Inch Seedling has set up “Small People No. 1” as a library playground for Nan’ao children, while Hsiao has been promoting experiential education in Qianzhen Caoya. For this particular project, Inch Seedling and Only HomeSchool will recruit different teams in hopes of sparkling innovative ideas based on the 108 Syllabus with local communities and schools.


Photo Credit : ZA Share

Chen mentions that the 108 Syllabus seeks the development of courses with special characteristics, often leaving rural schools behind. “Due to the high turnover rate of teachers in Nan’ao, teachers often lack the ability to conduct interdisciplinary exploration,” she states. Therefore, before the program began, Inch Seedling held a consensus camp in Nan’ao, inviting ZAshare, former National Development Council Minister Chen Mei-ling, and ten groups from various sectors. They worked closely with local schools to first identify problems before seeking possible solutions.

Of course, the problems are not as simple as they seem on the surface. Using “affective education” as an example, Chen states that three layers of implementation have been set up. First, Skidschool led by Chen discusses the topic of self-worth with students. Also, Little Red Hood, Taiwan’s first nonprofit organization focusing on the issue of menstruation, focuses on educating young women about personal hygiene. Finally, in discussions with students regarding the boundaries of relationships, ChickenSoup Family Life Education aims to answer any and all questions, such as “What is it like to have feelings for someone?” and “How do I get to know the opposite sex faster?”


Photo Credit : ZA Share

With extensive managerial experience and long-term involvement with educational reform, Hsao understands that regional revitalization groups coming from outside will likely leave someday. Locally grown teams that are properly integrated into the course of career exploration for children are the best solutions in the long run.

Along with Ministry of Education Youth Development Administration Chief Secretary Hsiang-Yi Kuo, Hsiao took the time to visit and persuade individual local stores. In the end, ten local businesses, including Cloud Kitchen, a travel agency, a motorbike shop, a hairdresser, and more agreed to cooperate in the production of a professional “E-Portfolio”. After the students visit a shop, they can fill in a learning list and automatically connect with 18 academic groups at the universities, so that they have some ideas about the future. “I want to open the eyes of the students, so that they would think of the law and politics academic group when they see the neighborhood magistrate, and think of the medical and pharmaceutical academic group when they see a medical clinic. The local stores are willing to continue participating when the students’ visits bring in more customers.”


Photo Credit : ZA Share

Establishing a local model before promoting the program across Taiwan

After more than six months implementing the program, Cho Chen and Tien-yi Hsiao both believe that their respective efforts in Nan’ao and Qianzhen Caoya will eventually serve all rural villages in Taiwan needin innovation in education. For example, after groups such as the Little Red Hood and ChickenSoup Family Life Education work with various primary schools in Nan’ao, they will clearly understand how their educational content may be transformed into lesson plans meeting the spirit of the 108 Syllabus, which can then be applied in other regions. Chen believes that “after a model is formed, it may be used as a reference for other locations. Each of the teams invited to participate also understands what and how to do in the future when they head to other towns and villages.”

Hsiao is also excited about the results. One of the participating shops, “No Frying Cloud Kitchen”, is very grateful. After the start of the program, they began receiving orders for their braised pork rice and wonton soup from schools. The store owner is currently considering opening new branches. “A business model is required for local innovation, so that self-sufficiency can be achieved in the end!”


Photo Credit : ZA Share

It is said that education requires a century’s worth of planning, and any achievements are not possible in just one day. In terms of the program in Qianzhen Caoya, it took six months just to create the model for the E-Portfolio. For Hsiao, his best-case planning is to develop a model for the first year, promote it locally in the second year, and replicate it successfully across Taiwan in the third year.

“Interdisciplinary innovation capacity can definitely be generated by a group that understands local needs, connecting groups locally and across Taiwan, and integrating resources offered by ZA Share.” Su promises that given enough time, the integration of local creativity and educational innovation can gradually develop into a comprehensive model that brings out the full potential of Taiwan.

Article/Hsiao Yu-Pin